Growing pains Part 2: Here comes the housing boom

·8 min read

For the past 25 years, Fred Gordon and Paul Jarsky have lived at Bachelor Hall – a historical stone farmhouse on the northern edge of Elora, formerly Nichol Township.

The house the land it sits on and the area surrounding has its roots from early settlers of the area.

Gordon’s research shows the land was first cleared in the 1830s by the Gerrie family who came from Scotland.

“If it’s not the first, it’s one of the first pieces of cleared land ever in Nichol Township, north of the Grand River,” Gordon said.

“The house epitomizes the sort of architecture that the Gerrie’s knew when they left Scotland and came here to Canada. They just reproduced it identically.”

Centre Wellington is known for the stone architecture seen in buildings and houses throughout the area.

“We pride ourselves on our built stone heritage, it’s unique, there’s only a handful of places in Ontario that use stone in order to build houses–Centre Wellington being one of them,” Gordon said.

“And in a community known for that sort of architecture, this house (Bachelor Hall) is undoubtedly the granddaddy of them all.”

Elora isn’t all about historical stone houses.

A short drive from Bachelor Hall and its connection to the area’s history is a subdivision of newer single-detached houses along the Keating Drive area, a sign of what’s to come.

Soon they’ll be even closer. Instead of a vast field when Gordon and Jarsky look beyond their property, there will eventually be houses.

James Keating Construction Ltd. plans to build 240-units, referred to as the Ainley Subdivision, of mixed housing-types on land which belonged to the former owners of Bachelor Hall.

Gordon said Bachelor Hall was severed from the rest of the land before he had purchased it.

Eventually new houses will flank all sides of the property not facing the street.

Gordon said they knew this was coming and they had lots of time to anticipate this as James Keating Construction purchased the property in 2005.

“We had been expecting single-detached homes, not unlike the subdivision the same developer built just south of here, and we expected to find a continuation of that sort of density,” Gordon said.

But that isn’t the case based on the development application which includes a mix of large single lots but also cluster townhouses and an apartment block included.

“All of a sudden there was a black and white sign-up, we got a letter in the mail proposing apartment buildings and cluster townhouses adjoining our heritage property,” Gordon said.

Tom Keating, construction manager of James Keating Construction, said they want to be compassionate to existing residential properties on their projects — such as Bachelor Hall and houses on Thomas Boulevard in the case of the Ainley Subdivision.

However, density requirements have changed since the subdivision around Keating Drive was built. New rules call for more units in less space.

“That was a subdivision my dad developed starting in the early 80s and it was wide open then,” Keating said.

“Back then you would go to the county with a proposed subdivision plan and they would say ‘why do you need so many units, can you cut a few back?’ Now you take a plan into the township or the county and they say ‘you’re not meeting the provincial targets, you got to figure out how you’re going to get a few more units in there.’”

In the province’s Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, the minimum density requirement is no less than 40 residents or jobs per hectare.

Keating said the province does not direct how to achieve this but only that it needs to be done.

In the pursuit of being compassionate to existing housing by creating larger lots for the new houses that back on to them and keeping a large forest in place, Keating said you run into a bit of a “math problem.”

“When you take a look at that little area of the site, you haven’t got the units per acre the province wants, now you have to come up with some slightly higher density product to make up for the ground you lost,” Keating said.

Solving this math problem means 117 singles, 62 townhouses and a 58-unit apartment building in the current version of the plan for the Ainley subdivision.

This isn’t the only subdivision planned or in construction in Centre Wellington or even near Bachelor Hall.

A short drive down Colborne Street takes you to northwest Fergus where the Storybrook subdivision is currently being built off Beatty Line in multiple phases.

Ultimately, Storybrook will consist of over 1,200 units of mixed housing types.

In Fergus’ south-end, a study is being conducted on 376 acres of land owned which could eventually accommodate 1,400 housing units.

In Elora there are three more subdivision applications on the south side of the Grand River.

The Youngblood and Haylock properties are side-by-side on South River Road which in total could have close to 800-units and also features a mix of singles, towns and apartments.

The Granwood subdivision has 125 singles, semi-detached and townhouses.

These along with other smaller developments are pushing the number of upcoming units well over the 3,000 mark but more will likely be coming.

The County Official Plan also directs housing growth, with a goal of growing the number in Centre Wellington from 10,785 in 2016 to 18,690 by 2041.

Most of this is directed to happen in Fergus with the number of households doubling from around 5,600 to 11,400.

Marianna Iglesias, senior planner for the Township of Centre Wellington, said the province is often updating growth projections and working with the County of Wellington to establish these numbers.

Planning departments like Centre Wellington’s then accept the growth, then plan.

Part of the planning process is ensuring there is enough land in urban centres and periodically expanding these boundaries to allow for housing growth.

When it comes to new subdivisions, Iglesias stressed density targets have to be met which often means mixed housing types.

“There’s a lot more townhomes, more apartments, apartment buildings, semi-detached, so there’s ways of increasing density within subdivisions and within the urban centres that are beyond the single-detached model that has been typical in the past in this community,” Iglesias said.

Centre Wellington mayor Kelly Linton said he sees providing this mix of houses as essential going forward through this growth and he wants to increase the support for this from elected representatives.

In his view, the job of local members of council is to put themselves in the shoes of taxpayers from all experiences and income-levels.

“The single family homes we saw being built between the 1970s to the early 2000s, that’s not going to serve us well in the future,” Linton said. “We need to have different housing options for people at different stages of income and different stages of life.”

The mayor sees heritage as a rich resource for the town that adds to the area’s charm and he doesn’t see it as an either or situation when it comes to growth and maintaining Centre Wellington’s roots.

There are ways for the township and council to make sure a new subdivision works in this regard.

Linton said this means making sure urban design standards are followed and that natural features are enhanced or protected whether that be trees, parks, trails or woodland.

However, Linton stressed property in the urban boundaries will be built out.

This includes the property around Bachelor Hall, which Iglesais said has been earmarked for a subdivision since being brought into the urban boundaries.

Back at Bachelor Hall, Gordon said he still feels the heritage value of the property is not being properly considered in the development.

A recent cultural heritage landscape study, which looked at broader areas rather than specific properties, did not include this area of Gerrie Road.

“Nobody seems to be cognizant of the fact that this was the first cleared lot…and now you want to build cluster townhouses and apartments,” Gordon said.

“It’s just so unsympathetic it’s not even funny.”

Despite how Gordon sounds, he said he’s not out to stop all development on the land. He respects the fact Keating owns the lands and wants to develop it.

“I think he should have the right to develop his land and that might come as a surprise to some people,” Gordon said. “What I think we need to do is look at the proposal.”

Gordon and Jarsky do take some solace in Keating being a local developer.

Keating explained this doesn’t mean anything in the planning process but means there is a level of trust built in the community.

He stressed he is a small developer who isn’t dreaming about the level of growth the community is projected to have.

“I grew up here, I love the community and you don’t want to see it grow too quickly beyond our means but growth is inevitable,” Keating said.

Keegan Kozolanka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com